The 20 Best Movie Endings of The 21st Century (So Far)

7. Son of Saul (2015)

Director Laszlo Nemes’ 2015 film “Son of Saul” follows a day-and-a-half in the life of a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. During this time period the prisoner, Saul Auslander attempts to care for the dead body of a boy he claims to be his son in hopes of providing him with a proper Jewish burial.

The ending of “Son of Saul” follows the escape of several prisoners including Saul from the concentration camp into the woods. The prisoners arrive at a shed in the forest, and while resting, Saul notices a young German boy peeking into the shed and smiles at him.

The camera shifts away from Saul for the first time in the film and follows the young boy as he goes off into the woods. This transition represents how the point of view of the film has now changed, now following an innocent boy. The young boy signifies hope, and the last image of Saul’s face tells us that he will not die without hope for the future. The last shot stops following the boy and pauses as if to ask its audience what direction should we go in from here.


6. There Will Be Blood (2007)
“I’m Finished”

there will be blood milkshake

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 “There Will Be Blood” tells the story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his rise from an ambitious miner to an oil baron. Along with this journey is Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) whose family farm Daniel purchases for the oil located in the ground. Eli is a local preacher and wants money from Daniel to help pay for his own church.

“There Will Be Blood” has been widely praised as a masterpiece since its release, with the website listing it as the top film of the decade from an aggregate list of film critics’ best of the decade lists, and in 2016 was named by the BBC as the #3 best film of the 21st century.

The ending of “There Will Be Blood” finds Daniel as an alcoholic and recluse living in his mansion. Eli visits Daniel looking for money, and Daniel attacks Eli, smashing his head with a bowling pin.

Some have theorized that the story between Daniel and Eli in “There Will Be Blood” is a metaphor for capitalism and religion in America, and what happens when the two forces collide and conflict with each other. In the final scene Daniel’s butler comes down the stairs to check on what has happened, and Daniel proclaims “I’m finished”.


5.  Memories of Murder (2003)
“He Looked Just Ordinary”

Director Joon Ho Bong’s 2003 film “Memories of Murder” is based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer. Two detectives, one from the local province, Park Doo-man (Kang-ho Song), and the other brought in from Seoul, Seo Tae-yoon (Sang-kyung Kim) struggle together to solve the case.

The detectives interrogate several potential witnesses, of which Park believes he can look into a suspect’s eyes and determine if they are the killer. Their efforts prove to be fruitless however, and they are unable to pin the murders on any one suspect. In the film’s final scene, Park Doo-man visits the crime scene of the first murder many years later.

A little girl approaches Park and tells him that another man had recently visited the scene as well, saying that he remembered doing something there a long time ago and wanted to take a look. Park asks the girl what the man looked like and the girls says that he had a plain, ordinary face. Park then stares into the camera with a desperate look in his eyes, an unsettling ending which shows that the trauma is still there, and the killer was just an ordinary person around us.


4.  45 Years (2015)
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”

2015’s “45 Years” tells the story of married couple Geoff and Kate, and the days leading up to the celebration of their 45th wedding anniversary. A few days before the anniversary, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter saying the body of his ex-girlfriend from half a century ago, Katya, has been discovered. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) soon learns that Geoff had planned on marrying Katya had she not died.

“I can hardly be cross with something that happened before we existed, can I?” insists Kate. Kate begins to question in hindsight whether Katya was an influence in their relationship after all these years. Was Katya at their wedding when they danced to the song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”? Was Katya in their decision to not have children? Is that the Katya’s perfume smell throughout the house?

The final scene of the film shows Geoff and Kate at their anniversary dancing to the same song which they danced to at their wedding, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”. As the song plays Kate appears to question the real meaning of the lyrics, and the real meaning of their marriage. “Now laughing friends deride, tears I cannot hide, so I smile and say, when a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes.”


3.  Lost in Translation (2003)
“Hey, You”

Lost in Translation

Director Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film “Lost in Translation” stars Bill Murray as aging actor Bob Harris, who befriends college graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in a Tokyo hotel.

Both are married, but are left to their own devices in the city as Bill arrives in Tokyo to film an advertisement, and Charlotte’s husband is on assignment as a photographer. The two eventually meet and end up spending much of their time together, helping each other deal with the cultural barriers they feel in the city.

By the end of the film a true friendship has developed between the two, although they both know it may just be for this specific place and time. In the last scene of the film Bob is in a taxi heading to the airport to return to the United States. He notices Charlotte in the crowded street, and leaves the taxi and walks to her.

Bob then whispers in her ear, however the audience does not hear what Bob says to her, it is a private moment, and director Sofia Coppola had Murray improvise the ending line. The two share a kiss, and say a final touching goodbye.


2. In the Mood for Love (2000)
“Buried Secrets”

Director Kar-Wai Wong’s 2000 film “In the Mood for Love” stars Tony Leung as newspaper editor Chow Mo-Wan, who moves into an apartment complex with his spouse at the same time as neighbor Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) does with her husband. The two spend much of their time together as their spouses are away, and soon make a discovery about their spouses that creates an even stronger bond between them.

The final sequence of “In the Mood for Love” shows Chow as he travels to Angkor Wat, Cambodia and whispers a secret into a wall of the ancient temple. Chow says earlier in the film that “In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share….they went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever.”

The camera shows Chow as he leaves the temple, and then cuts to a mud covered hole in one of the stone walls. The camera then travels unhurriedly in the subsequent set of images throughout the temple interior and exterior as the film’s haunting theme song fills the silent space.


1.  Phoenix (2014)
“Speak Low”

2014’s “Phoenix” by director Christian Petzold is set in post-World War II Germany and stars Nina Hoss as ‘Nelly’, and Ronald Zehrfeld as ‘Johnny’. Nelly is a former cabaret singer who has recently returned to Berlin after surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Nelly has had to undergo facial reconstruction surgery from a bullet wound and is now unrecognizable to those who knew her before. This includes her husband Johnny, who tells Nelly that she reminds him of his wife who he presumes is now dead. Johnny asks Nelly to impersonate his wife in order to obtain her inheritance, and Nelly obliges. Nelly soon discovers that it was Johnny who betrayed her and gave her up to the Nazis, leading to the film’s climatic final scene.

Johnny’s inability to recognize his former wife serves as an allegory for the experience of many Jews after World War II as they returned to a society unable to face the horror which was done. In the film’s final scene, Nelly invites Johnny and a group of old friends to listen to her sing.

Nelly begins to sing “Speak Low”, and as she sings, Johnny sees a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm, realizing that Nelly is his former wife. Nelly finishes the song and walks away.